Beloved author Beverly Cleary, creator of memorable characters like Ramona, Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins, died March 25. She was 104.
Cleary was born Beverly Atlee Bunn. After early struggles with reading, Cleary became an AVID reader. She first thought about becoming a children’s author when she was in grade school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 1938. That’s where she met Clarence Cleary, who she married in 1940.
Cleary earned a library degree at the University of Washington and worked as a librarian in Yakima, WA. She recalled in later interviews that she was inspired by young patrons who were looking for books that featured kids like them—ordinary kids. Her first book, “Henry Huggins,” was published in 1950.
“I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That’s what I wanted to read about when I was growing up,” Cleary said in a radio interview with NPR in 1999. “I wanted to read about the sort of (kids) that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school.”
One of Cleary’s most enduring, but not always endearing, characters is Ramona Geraldine Quimby. The energetic girl is the younger sister of Henry’s friend, Beezus, and was labeled a “pest” at times!
Cleary had many fans, and she answered her own fan mail. She also earned many awards, like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 1975. Cleary won the National Book award in 1981 for “Ramona and Her Mother.” In 1984, she won the Newbery Medal for “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” a book that looked at divorce through a child’s eyes.
Cleary described her characters as the types of kids she knew, whose thoughts and actions reflected her own experiences. She noted that her stories about everyday kids were the kind of books that she wished had been available when she was a child. Cleary’s books have been translated into 29 languages.